Written by: Theresa Alexander Inman, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
Hey there super parents and caregivers! Ever marveled at the incredible journey of communication that begins with a baby’s coos and giggles? As babies grow into toddlers, their ability to communicate blossoms, becoming a vital skill that sets the stage for a lifetime of effective expression and understanding. In this guide, we’re diving into some awesome ways to nurture those tiny voices and promote exceptional communication skills in your little ones.
Talk, talk, talk
Imagine you are the narrator of your child’s life. Describe what you are doing, what Sarah is seeing, feeling, or experiencing. Even though might seem like she doesn’t understand anything or everything, every word you say lays the groundwork for her language development. Babies are like sponges, absorbing sounds and language from their environment. Engage in baby talk, by using simple, soothing words or tones. Describe daily activities, such as diaper changes or mealtime to introduce your precious daughter to language. To clarify, when I say baby talk, I mean to speak as you would to adults, however, do so slower and clearer and in a happy tone. You may emphasize by varying your tone. The more words you use the more words your child will have in her repertoire. Studies also show that this predicts academic success.
Listen and respond
Communication is a two-way street. When your child babbles or points at something, pay attention and respond enthusiastically. This shows Jeffy that his attempts to communicate matter. Every behavior is communication. Crying and cooing are his way of communicating. Respond promptly to their cues as it fosters trust and security. Try to identify cries such as hunger, discomfort, or fatigue.
So I need to address this as I have heard it many times as a concern, you cannot ‘spoil’ your child by attending to them. Reframe your thinking and know that you are providing love and security for your child. This is especially significant if your child has experienced trauma, including being born prematurely.
Reading to your child, even if they are too young to understand the words, has numerous benefits. It exposes them to language, tones and rhythms, enhancing their future language and comprehension skills. Reading to your child from an early age not only promotes language development, it fosters a love for books. Choose age-appropriate books with colourful pictures and simple text. Point out the items, activities, and figures in the book. Describe the scenes and what the characters are doing and wearing while doing so. Oh, and you don’t have to stick to the ‘script’. Be creative! Make it fun!
Songs with actions or hand movements grab a child’s attention and help them associate words with movements. Plus, it’s a fun way to bond and learn together! Singing exposes children to the rhythms and melodies of language. Incorporate songs and nursery rhymes into daily routines. I find that many children start singing before they talk. Be encouraged when they hum the melodies and utter the occasional random word. Something that works really well is singing with Charla and pause before saying the last word. Let her surprise you, children many times will complete phrase by saying the last word. So many of the children I have worked with have surprised their parents and family members when I demonstrate this. Just a few days ago, on my fourth visit working with a family, the two-year-old, I’ll call Lizzy, said, “Town” repeatedly every time I paused when singing The Wheels on the Bus. Her mother was amazed! This was the first time she said a word consistently.
Introduce sign language
Baby sign language is an excellent tool to aid communication before your child uses words to speak. You can start with simple signs for eat, milk, all done, etc. can be understood and used by infants. Teaching basic sign language can help infants express their needs before they can speak. In a Parenting with Confidence interview, Dr. Joseph Garcia shared the value of teaching infants sign language. He recounted visiting friends in the Deaf community whose children communicated with them using sign at 8 months old. He added that when children who learn sign start using spoken language, it is much richer than those who were not taught to sign. For example, a child who signed will describe a ball by also adding its colour and other properties, instead of just stating it’s a ball.
Playtime isn’t just fun. It’s a perfect opportunity for language development. Describe the actions of their toys, the colours, shapes, and sizes. Playtime is an excellent opportunity to introduce new words. Describe toys and objects during play. For example, “Look the red ball is rolling!” You can describe what they are doing and what you or others are doing. You can involve them in age-appropriate productive roles. Have them feed themselves with a utensil. Your two-year-old can help to sort laundry and other tasks. That way you don’t always have to stop to teach them these skills. The more you embed them in your daily routines, the better for you and your child. Archie will learn real-life skills and you get the chores done while having fun! Of course, this will be slow going at first, however with consistency, he will master those skills.
You can embed language into all activities. Yes, you will likely be tired, okay exhausted at the end of the day. Like I tell all of the parents I work with, it’s better to do the hard work now and it will get easier. The longer you wait the more challenging it will get for you and your child.
Enroll your child in playgroups or attend parent-child activities. Interaction with peers can stimulate communication and social skills. Many parents I work with are initially fearful of enrolling their children in daycare. They feel that their child might be abused and won’t be able to tell them. Explore daycares with a drop-in service that way they get to interact with peers for short periods. Peer interaction is invaluable! Children will learn more from their peers than they will from us.
As your toddler begins to talk, listen attentively, even if the words are not clear. Show Evan that his words matter by responding to his attempts at communication. Repeat his words and add to his utterances in a conversational way. Remember each child is unique and develops at their own pace. Don’t rush or pressure him to speak. He’ll find his voice when he is ready.
Seek professional help if needed
If you have concerns about your child’s speech or language development, don’t hesitate to consult a pediatrician, speech therapist, or early interventionist. Early intervention can make a significant difference. 80 to 90% of children who receive early intervention services talk. Too often, I hear doctors tell parents to wait and their child loses precious time. Every moment counts. Birth to 3.5 is a critical period for learning new skills. Please don’t wait.
Nurturing communication skills in infants and toddlers is a rewarding journey that strengthens your bond with your child and sets the stage for a lifetime of effective communication. By incorporating these strategies into your daily routine, you’ll provide your child with a solid foundation for language development.
You’ve got this! The early years are an exciting time in your child's communication journey. Embrace the babbling, the gestures and the attempts at words. Keep the conversations going and watch those tiny voices grow into confident communications. Happy chatting!
Theresa Alexander Inman, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Theresa Alexander Inman is a highly qualified parent coach with experience in the fields of infant and toddler development, play-based interventions, behavior analysis, and mindfulness. In her signature method, she uses them as a combined treatment modality to meet the unique needs of the families she serves. She believes learning should be fun and involve the whole family and/or village. Theresa is also an Author (How Can I Help My Child Communicate?) International Speaker and Trainer.